Sydney, Feb.6 (ANI): There is palpable excitement around the selection of New South Wales batting prodigy Phillip Hughes, who is among four uncapped Australians in a squad charged with defending Australia's No.1 Test ranking in South Africa.
Hughes, 20, is poised to become his country's youngest Test debutant since Craig McDermott pulled on a Baggy Green cap in 1984, and 36-year-old leg spinner Bryce McGain the oldest since Bob Holland in the same year.
Marcus North, who can chime in with useful off-spin and will battle Victorian all-rounder Andrew McDonald for the prized No.6 position, joined them in the touring party.
In aiming for regeneration and reassurance at a desperate time for Australian cricket, Andrew Hilditch and his fellow selectors named eight players who have featured in four Tests or fewer.
The touring party of 14 contains only three survivors from Australia's most recent journey to South Africa - Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey - a symptom of the heavy injury toll and dramatic impact of retirements.
Hughes edged out Phil Jaques for the right to replace the most recently departed champion, Matthew Hayden, having impressed the selectors with his ability to perform under pressure for NSW when his credentials were being debated in pubs and newspapers around the country.
"[Hayden's] are massive shoes, and if it is successful, which we are sure it will be, it is going to be a great thing for Australian cricket. I don't think it could be a harder debut against that bowling attack away [from home], " the Sydney Morning Herald quoted chairman of slectors Andrew Hilditch, as saying.
The attack to face the Proteas' powerful batsmen is similarly green, but the selectors showed faith in the young men who bowled Australia to a consolation victory in the Sydney Test last month, favouring the containment of Nathan Hauritz for the second spinner's spot ahead of the less dependable Jason Krejza.
The selectors could not consider Andrew Symonds or Shane Watson, so McDonald held his spot and will hope the South African tracks are as favourable for seam bowling as they were on Australia's most recent visit.
"We've got a lot of young, immature bodies in our bowling group and you can't expect those guys to stand up and carry the work that the Gillespies and the McGraths did for so long," Ponting said of his preference for an all-rounder.
"Sometimes as a captain it is nice to look around and know that you have got another couple of bowling options," he added.
"Last time we were there, the wickets did seam quite a bit - probably more than any wickets I have ever played a Test series on. There will be some decisions to be made once we get there but having that all-rounder in your squad gives you great flexibility," he said.
North is a seasoned batsman who has toiled through 125 first-class games, but Hilditch made special mention of his capacity to provide spin support.
Opener Simon Katich, acknowledged the need for the senior men to stand up.
"You do have that extra responsibility anyway, being an opener, but also being one of the more experienced players now I just try and make sure I'm doing a good job to set a standard at training and, during a game, to try and take some pressure off some of the younger guys," he said.
"When you lose a player with the capabilities of Matty Hayden, and the experience that he brought to the team not only on the field but off it ... it's now a responsibility for those of us who are older - Ricky and Michael with the captaincy and vice-captaincy and guys like myself and Mike Hussey, who have played a lot of cricket - to try and set that standard," he added. (ANI)